Anti-Israel Professor Sues University of Illinois for Rescinding Job Offer

University disinvited Steven Salaita over his tweets during Gaza war; suit cites 'constitutional rights.'

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Students taping their mouths shut in support for Steve Salaita during a rally at the University of Illinois campus, Sept. 9, 2014, in Champaign Ill.
Students taping their mouths shut in support for Steve Salaita during a rally at the University of Illinois campus, Sept. 9, 2014, in Champaign Ill.Credit: AP

A controversial professor is suing the university that rescinded his job offer after he made several anti-Israel statements on social media this past summer.

Steven Salaita had accepted a position at the University of Illinois and resigned last year from Virginia Tech University, but officials at the Urbana Champaign campus pulled the offer in the August after he published a slew of posts criticizing Israel over its handling of the war in Gaza, according to several media outlets in Chicago.

One such tweet at the height of war read: “I repeat: If you’re defending #Israel right now, then ‘hopelessly brainwashed’ is your best prognosis.” Another one read: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” The profanity of the tweets led to accusations of him being anti-Semitic.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Salaita filed his suit Thursday against eight members of the university's board of trustees who voted in August to rescind his offer, several top university administrators, and unnamed donors who he says put pressure on the school to cancel the original job offer. Salaita, who was to receive a tenured faculty position in American Indian studies, is seeking compensation for "violations of his constitutional rights, including free speech and due process." According to the lawsuit, Salaita "suffered severe economic, emotional, and reputational damage" and that his "academic career is in shambles."

The Tribune reported that Chancellor Phyllis Wise received feedback from donors, students and parents about his Twitter posts in July. The board of trustees voted 8-1 in September to affirm the decision to rescind the offer, sparking campus protests and a national academic debate about the extent to which Illinois violated his right to free speech.

In November, he filed a lawsuit against UIUC, demanding that the university make public the minutes of the meetings and the email correspondence of the members of the committee that dealt with his case. A faculty report last month found fault in the process that led the university to rescind its offer, though it also found valid reasons not to have hired him, according to the Tribune. The board, in response, reaffirmed that its decision was final.

Salaita went on a lecture tour in the fall to protest the university's decision.

Salaita, who was born in the United States to a mother of Palestinian origin who grew up in Nicaragua, and a Jordanian father, was relatively unknown before the Illinois episode catapulted him into the limelight.

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